April 28th is Distracted Driving Awareness Day

29117_392255575100_297815375100_3925822_3130858_nRICHMOND, VA (APRIL 28, 2010) – Governor McDonnell has proclaimed today Distracted Driving Awareness Day, and for the fifth consecutive year, police departments, insurance agencies, medical professionals, schools, and a variety of other local organizations have partnered for this important day in Virginia. This year a total of 226 groups including DRIVE SMART Virginia (www.drivesmartva.org), DMV: The Virginia Highway Safety Office, the Virginia State Police and AAA Mid-Atlantic are urging motorists to pledge to make a change in their driving behavior, an appeal which unfortunately often falls on deaf ears.

Poll results released today by AAA Mid-Atlantic support earlier findings and the concerns of safety advocates that while motorists know intellectually that driving while distracted is dangerous, they still do it. In the survey, completed in February of this year, 85% want stricter penalties for distracted driving, yet close to half (44%) report talking on hand held cell phones while driving. The vast majority (88%) of the same group of drivers want more public education on the dangers of driving distracted.

A law passed in 2009 prohibits texting while driving in Virginia. 83% of Commonwealth drivers want stricter penalties for breaking that law, which is a secondary offense and carries a fine of $20 and three demerit points. AAA and DRIVE SMART Virginia support making the law stronger and changing it to a primary offense, thus allowing police officers to stop offenders for texting while driving rather than having to first pull them over for breaking another law before citing them for texting behind the wheel.

“The fact that drivers know certain distractions are incredibly dangerous but still drive while doing them clearly demonstrates the seriousness of the problem,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Driver’s perceived need to be in touch with one another within mere seconds and to multitask while driving creates serious dangers for everyone on the roadways of Virginia. Let’s change that trend today and demonstrate a ‘do-as-I-do’ behavior rather than a ‘do-as-I say’ attitude.”

“Drivers don’t realize that they have a great deal of control over their safety on the roadways,” said Janet Brooking, Executive Director of DRIVE SMART Virginia. “Studies show that the majority of crashes are caused by questionable driving behaviors, such as driving distracted. It is our goal to help people recognize their dangerous driving habits, and to encourage them to make small changes that can help keep them and their friends and family safe on our roadways.”

The Virginia Highway Safety Office at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reports (preliminary) that there were 115,330 crashes in Virginia in 2009. Almost one fourth of them were attributed to some type of driver distraction. “Making the choice to drive distracted has directly led to the loss of 127 of our fellow citizens, and has injured 15,517 individuals*,” said Captain Steven Chumley, Richmond Division Commander for the Virginia State Police. “The numbers speak for themselves. Don’t drive distracted.”

A key goal of Distracted Driving Awareness Day is to help citizens understand the importance of staying focused when driving. Studies by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute show that text messaging behind the wheel increases crash risk by 23 times. “No text message is worth a life. Multi-tasking behind the wheel due to a busy life style is no excuse. Motorists need to recognize the dangers distractions present and change their behaviors,” Chumley added.

Top 10 Tips to Minimize Your Distracted Driving:

  1. CHANGE YOUR WAYS and recognize the activities that distract you, such as eating, conversing on the phone, or changing a CD. Once you recognize these distractions, you can work to eliminate them.
  2. MAKE A PLAN. Know your route in advance and make sure that you have a good understanding of your directions. Check weather and road conditions. If you are transporting children, make sure that they are all properly buckled up and that you have items to keep them occupied, such as books on tape or soft toys.
  3. MANAGE YOUR TIME so that you do not have to multi-task or drive aggressively on the road.
  4. DON’T LET YOUR DRIVE TIME BECOME YOUR DOWN TIME. Understand that driving is not your “down time” or a time to catch up on phone calls, personal grooming, or dining.
  5. SCAN the roadway to make sure that you are aware of others on the road at all times. Be prepared for the unpredictability of others.
  6. CONCENTRATE on your driving. Make sure that you are not upset or tired when getting on the road. This is not the time to have a serious or emotional conversation with your passengers.
  7. PULL OVER if you need to do something that will take your eyes and/or mind off the road. Make sure that you find a safe place to pull over first.
  8. REDUCE THE USE! Use technology sensibly.
  9. TAKE A REFRESHER CLASS! Everyone can pick up bad habits through the years. A driver improvement class can raise your awareness and help you assess your driving behaviors.
  10. BUCKLE UP, EVERY TRIP, EVERY TIME. Making sure that everyone is properly buckled up is the best defense against distracted drivers.

Now in its 5th year, Distracted Driving Awareness Day is a DRIVE SMART initiative with more than 200 companies and organization partners statewide.

AAA Public Affairs Survey was conducted between November 2009 and February 2010 by WB&A of Crofton, Maryland. The mid-atlantic regional margin of error was +/- 3.3%. The margin error for Virginia only respondents was +/- 7.5%.